President Puigdemont’s “Catalan Way”

While in London the Catalan president explained the negotiated road to independence

Forging ahead with independence but remaining open to dialogue. This was one of the key messages from Catalan president Carles Puigdemont during his London address yesterday on the topic of Catalonia’s road map for independence on his second official trip abroad since he was sworn in. The former Mayor of Girona went over the details of the process in front of a select audience of academics and experts in international relations who had been invited by Chatham House, one of the leading think tanks worldwide in the field of foreign policy. Nevertheless, no Westminster politicians were ostensibly in attendance.

A good deal of Puigdemont’s address was spent recapping the main events that occurred in Catalonia between 2010 and the current eighteen-month term to achieve independence. On this point, the Catalan president carefully reviewed the 2010 Spanish Constitutional Court ruling that struck down the Catalan Statute, the massive rallies of recent years, the non-binding referendum on November 9 and the plebiscite elections of September 27, which gave rise to a parliamentary majority in favour of independence. However, Puigdemont remarked that the actual breakaway would not take place until the institutions of the new state were in place.

The trouble with unilateral action

The Catalan president argued that a negotiated solution with Spain —and Europe— is the preferred way to achieve independence, in line with the advice he was given by Alex Salmond when they met last Wednesday. “Initially, we have opted for dialogue, negotiation and agreement. This is the most advantageous path for everyone, whereas unilateral action poses a number of issues and negative consequences for all parties”, said Puigdemont; and he referred to the Catalan independence process as “a revolution” that brings together those who wear suits and those in T-shirts.

The only incident during the Q&A session occurred when Miriam Tey —a Barcelona-born publisher— spoke to say that she could not call Puigdemont “president” because she won’t recognise an authority that seeks to break Spanish and European law, according to her. The Convergència leader replied that the president’s “authority stems from our Parliament”. The Catalan chamber will play a key role in the independence process, which will culminate with a referendum on the new Catalan Constitution.

Puigdemont insisted that “we will refrain from taking a definitive step until we’ve gone through a democratic validation stage”, as he spent Wednesday evening in the company of some one hundred Catalans who reside in the UK. It was then when the president stated that if a majority of Catalans voted against the proposed Constitution, a new one would have to be drafted. The Catalan president and Convergència leader gave his assurances to those gathered at Chatham House that he will call a constituent election before the summer of next year.

Later he gave details of his meetings with the main Spanish political leaders and his willingness to engage in talks with the EU. “I’m afraid that the answer will have to come from Europe”, said Puigdemont, who made a point of underscoring Catalonia’s wish to become a new EU member state. “We cannot picture a different scenario”, he noted. So far, though, Europe’s institutions have kept quiet in response to Catalonia’s demands. For instance, last week the European Commission refused to meet Puigdemont during his trip to Brussels.

On this particular point, the Catalan leader emphasised that Europe “has undergone reforms” to adapt to Britain’s Brexit referendum and, therefore, “it will adapt for Catalonia’s sake” once it has become independent. This objective will require yet another vote.

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